Schlumberger posts loss on $8.5 billion charge as customers accelerate cuts

(Reuters) - Schlumberger NV SLB.N, the world's largest oilfield services firm, on Friday reported a first-quarter loss due to $8.5 billion in charges, as customers accelerated spending cuts amid the continuing decline in oil prices.

FILE PHOTO: The exterior of a Schlumberger Corporation building is pictured in West Houston January 16, 2015. REUTERS/Richard Carson

Crude prices plunged 60% in March after Saudi Arabia and Russia vowed to pump full bore and the spread of the novel coronavirus crushed global fuel demand. On Friday, international Brent crude futures were trading around $28 a barrel, well below the cost of production for many big producers.

The decline has caused big customers such as Exxon Mobil XOM.N to cut spending at least 30% and halt some drilling. Schlumberger expects overall global spending to fall roughly 20% in 2020, with a 40% drop in North America.

While OPEC and allies agreed to reduce output next month by 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) to buttress crude prices, the flood of oil on markets and business lockdowns from the coronavirus continue to hit oil prices.

The second quarter “is likely to be the most uncertain and disruptive quarter the industry has ever seen,” Chief Executive Olivier Le Peuch told investors on Friday. The company could not provide precise guidance for its current quarter given the uncertainty, he said.

Schlumberger’s international business, which provides about 70% of sales, remained a bright spot with revenue up 2% year over year, compared with a 17% drop in North American revenue.

But the resilience in international markets “is a moving target” as national oil companies and others continue to reduce spending, wrote analysts at energy investment firm Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

Schlumberger cut its capital investments by 30% this year to $1.8 billion, and pared its quarterly dividend to 12.5 cents from 50 cents per share to preserve cash. Schlumberger executives have taken a 20% pay cut, while the company has reduced staff and furloughed workers.

The dividend cut was a “monumental decision from the management team - and exactly the right one,” wrote Bernstein analysts.

Shares rose 8% in early trading to $15.19.

Most of the $8.5 billion charge to earnings was from writing down assets because of the broad oil business decline. Nearly $1.3 billion was tied to past investments in customer projects, a strategy that led to prior charges and which critics have said increased its exposure to oil prices.

Another $587 million hit to earnings came from its North America pressure pumping unit - a business it expanded roughly two years ago with a $430 million acquisition of Weatherford International assets.

The charge led the company to report a first-quarter net loss of $7.38 billion, or $5.32 per share, compared with a profit of $421 million, or 30 cents per share, a year earlier.

In North America, revenue was $2.3 billion, a 7% decline from the last quarter. Schlumberger has been restructuring its North American business, and in January said it would idle roughly 50% of its hydraulic fracturing fleet. In March, as activity dropped off, the company reduced its active fleet 27%.

Excluding charges and credits, the company earned 25 cents per share, slightly beating analysts’ average estimate of 24 cents, according to Refinitiv IBES data.

Reporting by Liz Hampton in Denver and Shariq Khan in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Steve Orlofsky